Surf’s up

On surfing as a metaphor for life

Photo by Ting Tse Wang on Unsplash

3 min read
Robbie Young

Many metaphors can be used to describe life with all its ups and downs. Life is a journey; it is like a stage on which we play our part; life is a book with many chapters etc.

I particularly like the metaphor of the surfer being carried by a powerful wave. Life comes at us in constant waves. Just as the wave is a gift to the surfer, so life is given to us as a gift. Just as the power is in the wave and not in the surfer, so it is with life: there is no real power within us apart from that which life gives us.

The power of life is love. In ourselves, we have no power to love, for love comes to us as the wave comes to the surfer.

Just as the surfer can choose to ride the wave or not, so we too can let the wave of love pass us by. We can be like the spectator on the beach, watching the waves roll in, refusing to leave our comfort zone of the deck chair and the Sunday newspaper.

Being in tune

While the power is in the wave, the surfer is not inactive. If I want to stay upright, I must be completely in tune with the flow of the wave, making myriads of adjustments of balance and posture, emptying myself of everything except my capacity to allow myself to be taken where the wave carries me.

Of course, the surfer may fall, and so might I in my attempts to be in tune with the power of love coursing through my being. But the sea is generous, and the waves keep coming, as never ending gifts to the surfer who is brave enough to try again.

Dog eats dog

The surfer and the wave may not be an easy metaphor to accept. We like to think of ourselves as self-generating, autonomous centers of power. Self-help gurus tell us that we have the power within us to fulfil our every dream. Our role models tend to be people who through their own ingenuity, drive and passion have made it to the top.

It is no secret that most of these high-flying achievers have been ruthless in making their world as they want it to be. In a fiercely competitive environment, it is difficult to avoid adopting the law of “dog eats dog” as the default paradigm.

It is not easy to propose that we renounce the inner drive of the ego to put ourselves in tune with the power of love that comes to us from beyond ourselves.

Love always gives

We may be inclined to place our bets on our capacity to direct our own lives, making choices based on a philosophy of “looking after number one.”

Yet, we cannot undo the fact that we are not self-created in an absolute sense. Without our parents, we would not be here. The very air we breathe and the water we drink have a source beyond ourselves.

Great artists and scientists know that inspiration comes to them, not from them. Love is an inspiration. It comes to us, not from us.

The philosopher David Walsh writes in The Politics of the Person as the Politics of Being: “We love because love has made it possible for us to love, for we are not the source of the love by which we are opened in vulnerability towards one another. More than the love we bear is the love by which we are borne.”

That is why love always gives. It respects the fact that it has first been received.

First published in New City London

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